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NSSH Part 607

Initial Soil Survey Preparation

607.00  Purpose

This part of the NSSH is focused on those soil survey projects that are being managed as initial soil surveys because they have either never been surveyed. In rare instances, existing soil surveys required such extensive revision as to require complete remapping. The extensive revision of non-MLRA soil survey areas has been phased out and replaced with the process of updating map units on an MLRA basis. Updating soil surveys is addressed in Part 610 of this handbook. The purpose of initial soil survey preparation is to ensure the efficient use of people and equipment and to meet the intent of the soil survey. The preparations help the project soil scientists to understand the intent and specifications detailed in the memorandum of understanding and the specific timeline and deliverables detailed in the plan of operation.

607.01  Policy and Responsibilities

  1. The MLRA Region-Wide Memorandum of Understanding

    The MLRA region-wide memorandum of understanding outlines technical standards and responsibilities of cooperators within the MLRA soil survey region and is applicable to initial soil survey projects being conducted within the region.
  2. The Soil Survey Project Long-Range Plan

    The soil survey project long-range plan (along with the project soil survey area memorandum of understanding, if one is used) specifies the deliverables and sets the time period for the completion of the soil survey. The time period specified for an initial soil survey project is recorded in the NASIS Legend table. Although initial soil surveys are planned and organized to complete a defined soil survey area, they are essentially a subset of the MLRA soil survey area and need to be managed within that larger physiographic context.

    1. Initial soil survey projects are scheduled for completion within about a 5-year period. Staffing should correspond to this scheduled completion period.
    2. If initial soil survey projects are estimated to take longer than about 5 years to complete, staffing should be reconsidered or the project should be subdivided into more manageable areas.
  3. The State Soil Scientist

    The state soil scientist provides administrative and management support and guidance to the office and staff and maintains and fosters relationships with the cooperators in the project.
  4. The Soil Survey Regional Office

    The Soil Survey Regional Office (SSRO) provides technical support and guidance in preparing to conduct the survey in a coordinated fashion within the MLRA soil survey region.
  5. The Soil Survey Office

    The soil survey office (SSO) is responsible for:
    1. Reviewing the MLRA region-wide memorandum of understanding and the soil survey area memorandum of understanding (if applicable);
    2. Preparing both long-range and annual plans of operation to complete the initial soil survey project;
    3. Preparing and indexing the base maps (options may include contact print air photos, DOQ images for on-screen digitizing, etc.);
    4. Collecting and reviewing reference material, including digital data analysis;
    5. Assembling equipment;
    6. Making preliminary field studies;
    7. Preparing an initial descriptive legend based on the field studies;
    8. Initiating the collection of soil performance data to support soil interpretations;
    9. Ensuring that map unit design meets program needs; and
    10. Preparing to perform progressive correlation in a manner that ensures that the initial soil survey project is coordinated with the overall MLRA soil survey project.

607.02  Preliminary Survey Activities

  1. Memorandum of Understanding and the Long-Range Plan

    1. After the soil survey field staff has gained some familiarity with the survey area, the MLRA region-wide MOU, the long-range plan and, if applicable, the local memorandum of understanding are reviewed jointly with the soil survey regional office, the state soil scientist, the line officer representing the lead agency, and representatives from each major cooperator. The following items are reviewed:
      1. survey objectives and specifications;
      2. the role and function of each cooperating agency;
      3. the mapping base suitability in relation to landforms and soil complexity of the area;
      4. interpretation needs for regulations and programs;
      5. needs for laboratory and soil investigations for soil classification and soil interpretations;
      6. adequacy of plans to digitize, map finish, and electronically publish; and
      7. any directive to restrict information deemed to be sensitive to national security (see Part 606, section 606.01 of this handbook).
    2. If changes are needed later, the state soil scientist, soil survey regional director, or the appropriate supervisor of the lead agency is notified. If the state soil scientist, soil survey regional director, and appropriate supervisor concur, the long-range plan and, where applicable, the memorandum of understanding for the survey area are amended as outlined in Part 606, section 606.01(a)(6) of this handbook. The board of advisors for the MLRA soil survey region, or similar management body as applicable, is consulted as necessary.
  2. Preparation of Aerial Photo Field Sheets (if used)

    Use of digital map base materials is preferred for their inherent efficiencies, but in some instances paper copy aerial photo field sheets are used.

    1. The field sheets are properly identified to aid in their use and to ensure recovery of the sheets if they are lost. If the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is the lead agency, each field sheet displays the following information:
      1. USDA, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the full name of the cooperating agencies;
      2. the total acreage of the soil survey area on the field sheet;
      3. the soil survey area name and state and the field sheet number;
      4. the names of the soil scientist(s) who mapped the sheet and the date that the field sheet was completed;
      5. the telephone number of the soil survey office; and
      6. the email address of the MLRA soil survey leader.
    2. The note “ADVANCE COPY SUBJECT TO CHANGE,” the name of the soil survey area, the field sheet number, a bar scale, and a north arrow are placed on the front of all field sheets distributed to users.
  3. Preparation of Digital Data Mapping Base

    1. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Forest Service (USFS), National Park Service (NPS), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), or other lead agency identifies and acquires the appropriate spatial data layers necessary to create and maintain a soils map digitally. Responsibilities include:
      1. Locating sources and obtaining geospatial data for production soil survey;
      2. Checking for correct spatial data extent (location);
      3. Reviewing metadata for usability; and
      4. Processing and preparing the digital spatial data layers using appropriate map projections and file format conversions. All digital layers should have the same:
        • coordinate system;
        • quality standards;
        • portable format; and
        • scale.
    2. The soil survey regional office provides guidance on the appropriate procedures to be used to ensure consistency in developing the geodatabase, naming and archiving files, and performing quality assurance activities. See exhibit 607-2 for an example.
  4. Reference Material

    Reference material is gathered, reviewed and summarized before the preliminary fieldwork begins. The kinds of reference material that may be available and useful are listed in exhibit 607-1. Sources of reference material are:
    1. The U.S. Department of the Interior, Geological Survey, and state geological surveys or comparable state agencies with other names;
    2. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agriculture Statistics Agency;
    3. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service;
    4. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agriculture Research Service;
    5. The U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation;
    6. The U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census;
    7. The U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs;
    8. The U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service;
    9. The U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management;
    10. The libraries of local schools, universities, municipalities, historical societies, and state agencies;
    11. Local weather stations;
    12. The Crop Reporting Service;
    13. Knowledgeable people such as faculty members of universities; representatives of NRCS, the soil conservation district, the cooperative extension service, and the Farm Services Agency; vocational agriculture teachers; local representatives of planning boards, sanitation departments, and state and county highway departments; agricultural product dealers; the state organization of professional soil scientists; and State and local geologists;
    14. Local State data clearinghouses; and
    15. State university and college data sets.
  5. Assembly of Equipment
    1. The kinds and use of equipment are discussed in chapter 4 of the Soil Survey Manual.
    2. A digital camera is necessary in all soil survey areas. The camera should be available to take photos when opportunities arise. Labeling and filing photographs in a systematic manner allow easy retrieval.
    3. Office computers, scanners, plotters, field data collection and recording devices, and similar equipment improve and enhance data analysis, revision, and summary.

Exhibit 607-1—Reference Materials for Soil Surveys

  1. Soil Surveys in the MLRA

    Older soil surveys of the current survey area and nearby areas
    Soil surveys of adjoining areas
    Soil surveys for conservation planning
    Soil survey quality control data, including field notes and documentation
    Soil survey quality assurance documents
    Soil correlation memoranda and amendments
  2. Reference Maps

    Original field sheets
    Major land resource area maps
    General soil map
    All available aerial photography and other remote-sensing coverage
    U.S. Geological Survey topographic and slope maps
    Public lands survey
    Maps and text on geology, geomorphology, geography, and water resources
    Maps and text on vegetation and land use
    Climatic maps and data
    Flood plain maps
    Maps and text on air resources
    U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wetland maps
  3. Reports and Inventories

    Census reports
    Crop reporting service reports
    Multi-spectral data
    River basin reports
    State, regional, or county land use plans and regulations
    Resource Conservation and Development work plans
    Public lands management reports and inventories
    Bulletins and reports of state agricultural experiment stations
    National Food Security Act Manual and similar manuals
    National Resource Inventory data
    Field office technical guides
    Soil laboratory data
  4. Scientific and Research Reports and Data

    Theses and dissertations of college or university students
    International Taxonomy Committee reports, such as those on wet soils, Aridisols, and Andisols
    Articles in scientific and technical journals
    Well logs from local or state agencies
    NRCS drainage, irrigation, and erosion-control guides and maps
    Percolation test results from local agencies
    Highway soil test data
    Climate data
    Geomorphology studies
  5. Forestry, Range, and Wildlife Inventories and Studies

    Forest inventories
    Range inventories
    Studies and reports on wildlife habitat recreational sites
  6. Official Soil Series and Soil Interpretations

    Soil interpretations information in the databases for the taxa assumed to be in the survey area
    Official soil series descriptions
    Archived copies of previous official series descriptions and soil interpretation records
  7. Databases

    Pedon database
    National Soil Information System
    Digital General Soil Map of the U.S.
    Soil Survey Geographic (SSURGO) database
  8. Digital Data

    Digital orthophotography
    Digital raster graphic
    Digital elevation model
    Common land units
    USFS terrestrial ecological unit inventories
    Digital hydrography, transportation, etc.
    Digital remote sensing, such as Landsat and Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS)

Exhibit 607-2—Example of a Procedure for Geodatabase Development, File Naming, Archiving, and Quality Assurance

  1. Geodatabase Development

    1. Set up geodatabases with topology and import data layers.
      • Use the standards for file naming
      • Create a geodatabase
      • Import data into the geodatabase
      • Project data to the desired geographic location
      • Create a feature dataset
      • Import template feature classes
      • Set up domains
    2. Set up the map environment for creating digital soils data.
      • Create a map and add data layers
      • Customize a map using:
        -- Toolbars and Menus
        -- Symbology
        -- Image display
      • Create a layer overview
      • Add or delete fields and calculate values
      • Set selectable layers
    3. Utilize various software in combination with appropriate data sets to accurately draft and revise soil mapping on screen.
    4. Import, create, and display georeferenced information to validate soil map accuracy.
    5. Create metadata to capture data sources and processes used in the development of digital mapping.
  2. File Naming System

    The geodatabase is named as follows: state abbreviation followed by county or parish FIPS code, “OFFICIAL”, and the current date (two-digit month, day, and year), i.e., PG695_OFFICIAL_072105.
  3. Archiving

    In order to protect electronic data from accidental loss or software/hardware failure, certain archiving procedures are implemented.

    1. The project leader establishes an office archive procedure and communicates it to all soil scientists working on the project.
    2. The project leader adds metadata notes into the geodatabase, compacts the geodatabase, and makes a copy of it using the copy and paste function in ArcCatalog. The copy is then renamed by changing “OFFICIAL” to “GIS” and using the current date, i.e., PG695_GIS_072205.
    3. The project leader confirms that metadata notes are kept to record scale of digitizing and imagery used. Brief metadata entries are made in the Abstract section of the metadata in ArcCatalog for each geodatabase version that is sent for archiving. Notes in the Abstract and Purpose section can also be made for feature classes.
    4. The following schedule should be followed to safeguard the geodatabase:
      • Daily

        All new or edited soil mapping data is backed up to hard drive storage at the soil survey office. A separate copy of the geodatabase is therefore saved on a hard drive separate from that of the active file being edited.
        1. Edits are frequently saved during an edit session in case the software crashes. Saving edits is different from saving the geodatabase.
        2. Topology is frequently validated and errors are fixed while editing.
        3. The geodatabases are compacted in ArcCatalog.
      • Weekly – All new or edited soil mapping data is burned onto a CD or DVD and stored offsite for security. Updates can be added to previous media in order to maintain an archive of edited versions.
      • Monthly – When soil mapping data are being updated, a copy of the geodatabase is sent by compressing it into a WinZip file and sending as an email attachment (or on a CD or DVD) to designated GIS staff. If no edits have been made, this is not necessary.
      • Annually – After completing a 100 percent quality control review of the digital data, the project leader sends a copy of the overall geodatabase to the soil survey regional office for quality assurance.
  4. Quality Assurance

    1. The MLRA soil survey leader completes a 100 percent quality control review of digital data, validates topology for the entire feature class, and fixes identified errors. After the quality control review is completed, a copy of the geodatabase is renamed, i.e., PG675_QA_current date, and then sent to the soil survey regional office for quality assurance.
    2. A soil data quality specialist compares digital data with the field sheets during annual reviews or field assistance visits and discusses differences. For soil survey offices that use only digital mapping data, the review evaluates landscape registration and map unit concepts. An additional brief review is completed at the end of the survey.
    3. The soil survey regional office reviews monthly copies for quality of boundary line work and geodatabase properties.
    4. Offices that have soil mapping on paper field sheets perform a 100 percent review of progressive digitizing when the soil survey is completed or when interim data are finalized.